A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter

Volume 10 No. 9

5 September 2011

"For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled." --Richard Feynman

What's New?

SD for Kids. I was interviewed about my Skeptic's Dictionary for Kids by Kylie Sturgess for her Token Skeptic podcast #77, available on iTunes.

The SD for Kids got a nice shout-out from Bad Astronomer Phil Plait and from the JREF. There was only one comment on the JREF page, from someone who thought it "odd" that there was no mention of "God or even religion." It's true. There is no mention of any of the thousands of gods humans have created nor is there much said about the thousands of religions that plague our planet. Even so, the first response I got on the SD for Kids feedback page was:


The Jesus warning went on for many lines, but I guess the author was bothered by the fact that there is no mention of her god or religion in the SD for Kids.

If the surveys of U.S. adults are accurate, something like half the parents in the U.S. will be offended by the fact that the SD for Kids assumes the universe is billions of years old and that humans and all other current life forms have descended and evolved from earlier life forms.

There is also no mention of logical fallacies and no use of words like 'woo,' 'deluded,' or 'pseudoscience' in the SD for Kids. Odd? Perhaps. Intentional? You bet.

There were several dozen comments on Phil Plait's post about the SD for Kids but most of them had nothing to do with the book. Someone hijacked the conversation and rambled on about scientism and indoctrination of children. None of those hijacked seem to have read what I wrote in the item I advise everyone to begin with:

I hope you do not take my word for it when I say that most scientists think this or that about ghosts, psychics, or predictions that the world will end on such and such a day. I hope that someday you will study these things and decide for yourself what is probably true or not true....

I wrote this book for kids 9 and up. I hope whoever reads these pages will leave wanting to study more about aliens, ghosts, magic powers, and other weird things.

There was a positive review of the SD for Kids from TeacherNinja, but it evoked no comments. Neither did the report from Teach Effectively.

Librarian Jim Randolph also posted a positive review. John Wills Lloyd's blog on the SD for Kids got one response:

hahahha skeptics dictionary, i never heard of this before. Would’t your kid get in trouble for using the skeptic dictionary to define the word astrology to his or her teacher who believe in that type of stuff hahahahah

Ha ha ha.

I did get a few inquiries about a print version. I'm looking into it.

I've added one new entry (ghost hunters) and two more books to the "sciency books" list: Science Detectives: How Scientists Solved Six Real-Life Mysteries and Hoaxed!: Fakes and Mistakes in the World of Science. The books were recommended by someone who called the SD for Kids a "great site" and said she appreciates the fact that I created it. Thanks, Laurie.

Herman Boel has begun translating the SD for Kids into Dutch. And I've had inquiries about translating it into Indonesian and Norwegian.

Skeptimedia. New posts: Dennis Markuze aka David Mabus arrested in Montreal (yes, the defender of Nostradamus and hater of all things atheistic has been stopped...at least for the short term); The good, the bad, and the ugly in ABC's Nightline show on psychics (a fairly decent program on psychic claims ends poorly with a naive fellow named David Wright being completely snookered by Alison Dubois and Rebecca Rosen); She nearly died and my life passed before my eyes (a piece I started three years ago is completed and posted; it's rather personal and probably not of much interest to most readers); and A Slow Day (a quote and a few photos some may find amusing are posted).

reader comments: 9/11 conspiracies (someone claiming to be a scientist says some rather unscientific things); qigong (a reader tries for the second time to convince me that there is good scientific evidence for chi); and Jane Roberts & Robert Butts (someone claiming he's a skeptic unintentionally exposes himself as something else).

revision. The Atlantis entry was revised to include additional information about Ignatius Donnelly, a man who could make stuff up faster than Sylvia Browne and who has had a lot of influence on some pretty wacky characters (Helena Blavatsky, Rudolf Steiner, James Churchward, Edgar Cayce, and Graham Hancock).

updates. Several files were updated. A complete list with links to the updates may be found at skepdic.com/updates.html.

Romancing the Shaman

Peter AzizThanks to Ravi and Tim for two stories about healers in the ancient tradition. Shaman Peter Aziz sold his "cancer cure" to 20 people and was arrested for making and selling DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine), a psychedelic drug naturally occurring in several plants. Aziz performed some sort of "ritual healing ceremony" along with his dispensing of DMT. (Aziz is an Ayahuascero.) He was rewarded with a 15-month jail sentence for producing and supplying DMT. Had he used a homeopathic concoction, however, he'd probably still be free to perform his ceremonies on desperate clients.

If shaman Peter had practiced "energy medicine," he'd probably never be arrested for duping cancer patients. Energy medicine is even better than homeopathy if you are looking for a cheap and foolproof way to rob and fool sick, desperate people. If I tell you: “Everything is made up of energy, and you leave imprints of your energy on your stuff or in the space you were in,” can you prove me wrong? So, if I tell you that some bad stuff is messing with your energy and that I can make the bad stuff go away and replace it with good stuff, if you're desperate and ignorant enough, you might just believe me. Of course, I'll use terms like "negative energy" and "positive energy," even though they are scientifically meaningless.

If I tell you that I am Native American and practicing an ancient tradition of cleansing negative energy from places with chants and burning herbs, you might try me out if you're desperate and naive enough. I could be very impressive as I burn such things as white sage, sweetgrass, juniper, and lavender. Of course, for effect I'd wave a turkey feather over the smoke in a counterclockwise direction. How can you prove that I'm not purifying the place and negating the negative energy? It's only one step from cleansing spaces to cleansing cancers. By the time you figure out that I'm just blowing smoke, you'll be dead and I'll be long gone.

LortieSo far, StarShield Lortie, owner of Blissful Spaces Housecleaning in Columbia, Tennessee, has limited her ritual abuse of the clean air act to claims that she can rid houses, apartments, condos, or used cars of "residual energies left behind by the previous occupant." But it is just one easy step from cleansing the residual energy of a used car to cleansing the cancer from an old body.

Maybe we should demand that "energy medicine" be taught along with real medicine in our medical schools. Teach the controversy. Be fair. Tell both sides. Blah blah blah. It's un-American to teach only E=mc2. We shouldn't keep our students from knowing that in some traditions E= whatever you want it to equal.

Quantum Touch

Just as I finished the previous paragraphs, what should appear in my emailbox but an email from [deleted at the emailer's request] He wrote:

Hi Robert,

Recently I read your article on "Energy medicine looking in all the wrong places" and was wondering if you have included Quantum Touch in your research on the subject.  I ask because it seems to me that in Richard Gordon's work you will find the evidence that Randi and all the other skeptics have been saying does not exist...

[paragraph removed]

One study I know of that was conducted was with Dr. Norm Shealy, whom I suspect you already know about so you can call him to find out what he did to prove it to himself that QT does work as advertised and indeed does have a plausible explanation as to how it works so further study can have a beginning point.

[paragraph removed]

P.S. I took a course from Andy Neher, you represent him accurately as well as the other things in your article, now let's go deeper.

The emailer is referring to my recommendation of The Psychology of Transcendence (1980) by Andrew Neher. This Prentice-Hall book is out of print. Used copies may be available from Amazon.com. It was reissued in 1990 by Dover Books as Paranormal and Transcendental Experience.

Richard Gordon came to my attention several years Richard Gordonago and I awarded him the quackery of the month prize. I have no reason to think differently today than I did in 2004 about his achievements:

This hour's award goes to Richard Gordon for Quantum Touch, which he calls a "breakthrough in hands-on healing."  He teaches folks how to focus and amplify their chi or prana. Gordon's gimmick is in "combining various breathing and body awareness exercises." You know you are dealing with a quack when you read such nonsense as "all healing is self-healing." Gordon promises results such as "spontaneous structural realignment" and claims to have cured a child's bowed legs in five minutes. What I don't understand, though, is Gordon's claim that all healing is self-healing yet "Quantum-Touch works wonders post-surgically, as well as on trauma, burns, and even poison oak." he claims that "One nurse told me that a physician asked her to stop using Quantum-Touch post-surgically since he could no longer predict how much pain medication to give the patient." Why not just skip the surgery and go right for the Quantum Touch miracle? Or, if all healing is self-healing, why is there any need for Quantum Touch?

I think Certified Quantum-Touch Practitioner and Instructor Alice Hess, CRNA retired, deserves an honorable mention for her promotion of multiple modalities: including Usui/Karuna Reiki, Craniosacral, Quantum-Touch, massage, Level 3 Reconnective Healing®, the Vogel crystal technique, and Integrative Energy Therapy. What? You've never heard of Integrative Energy Therapy? Me neither. So here's the skinny:

Integrated Energy Therapy is the next level to heal with the energy of angels. Developed at the Center of Being, by Stevan J. Thayer, Carmela was part of the group that received the IET healing method and was one of the first IET practitioners. IET uses a divine angelic energy ray to work directly with your 12-Strand Spiritual DNA. IET supports you in safely and gently releasing limiting energy patterns of your past, empowering and balancing your life in the present, and helps you to reach for the stars as you evolve into your future.

Norm ShealyI'm sorry, but I just can't bear to waste any more time correcting typos and following these loose threads through the dark sky that is energy healing. I thank the emailer, though, for introducing me to the work of Dr. Norm Shealy. I'd never heard of him before. Now I know that Dr. Shealy, according to Dr. Shealy, "is one of the world's leading experts in pain management." Dr. Shealy tells us:

For over 3 decades, Norm Shealy as been at the forefront of Alternative Medicine and Alternative Health Care. In the mid-60’s he introduced his major innovations for pain control ---Dorsal Column Stimulation (DCS) and Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, both now used world-wide. Shortly after that his emphasis broadened to include the vast field of Self-Regulation with the addition of biofeedback, autogenic training and his introduction of Biogenics ©, a major tool for stress reduction.

Dorsal Column Stimulation? Can't say I've ever heard of it or had need of it. Anyway, it's not energy medicine, but electrotherapy. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation? Never heard of it either, but it's also just electrical stimulation of nerves and has nothing to do with energy medicine. Anyway, Norm worked his way away from neuroscience to holistic medicine and then on to energy medicine. According to Norm:

He has been president of the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine. His work with Caroline Myss let [sic] them to start the first doctoral program in Energy Medicine. In 2001, that work led to the establishment of Holos University Graduate Seminary. He was President of Holos University for its first 7 years and continues there as Professor of Energy Medicine.

Holos University Graduate Seminary, whose slogan is "come home to yourself," offers graduate programs in spirituality, medical and intuitive counseling, integrative healthcare, mysticism, and transformational psychology. I'm sure it has no trouble finding customers with an attractive menu like that. Whether Norm, Gordon, or any of their students will win the million dollar prize is doubtful, but I hope one of them applies and agrees to a public test of their abilities as energy healers.

Who needs Alice in Wonderland when you have Energy Healers?

Written by Bob Carroll
with the assistance of John Renish
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reader comments

I'd like to suggest you retitle your 'SD for kids' and call it 'SD for politicians'. These are the idiots who have the greatest influence on our lives and have the least training to do so.

Anything that you can do to help would be appreciated. I think the level at which you've pitched your book will be ideal for them, so very litte change will be needed.

Kind regards
James Laubscher

reply: I did write an SD for politicians (and journalists, scientists, plumbers, electricians, philosophers, etc.). It's called The Skeptic's Dictionary and it's avaiable free online!

I don't think I agree with you regarding the influence of politicians on our lives. I think you must look at the people who are influencing the politicians (with cash or things of cash value) to find the ones who have the most unwanted influence on our lives. These are the fellows who instigate the wars and initiate the legislation (or lack thereof) that profits their outfits and that has set our nation on the road to perdition. I thought Obama might stand up to them, but it was not to be. We're still in Afghanistan, still in Iraq, and still haven't condemned the use of torture. The icing on the cake is that Dick Cheney is not on trial but on TV promoting a book.

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